Service-oriented businesses rely on accurate appointment scheduling to ensure smooth operations. Think of the alternative: Customers randomly showing up at a place of business and requesting service right then and there. It’s just not feasible for businesses such as spas, salons, chiropractors and others.
But anyone who has taken appointments and reservations over the phone or by e-mail knows just how tedious this process can be. They must manually verify availability for the day and time requested, block off that time slot, input customer information into a spreadsheet or file, make reminder calls or send e-mails prior to the scheduled appointment, and then possibly document details of the appointment once completed. Not only is this traditional method of setting appointments tedious, it can require a significant amount staff time that could be devoted to other, more important assignments. This is especially true at businesses with a high volume of daily service appointments, in which case scheduling these appointments may take up most, if not all, of a staff person’s time.
Technology has come up with solutions to almost all of the dilemmas faced by businesses. Scheduling appointments is no different, and it’s why more and more service-oriented businesses are turning to slot online appointment-scheduling software to improve their operations.
GOT AN INTERNET CONNECTION? THAT’S ALL YOU NEED!
The infrastructure of most online appointment-scheduling software applications make them easy to incorporate into existing business operations. In fact, all that’s needed is an Internet connection. Known as Software as a Service (SaaS) and cloud applications, online scheduling programs function in the same manner as online banking, social media, e-mail and other Web-based systems: Users access them online just as they would a Web page. They typically do not require any downloads, installation or additional hardware.
It’s accessibility from any Internet connection also makes it ideal for business operators and staff that routinely work outside the office and must have easy access to appointment and customer information.
Some scheduling software providers offer a free trial of their product, which presents a great opportunity to test the scheduler and see if offers the needed functionality. Once a user sets up an account, he or she typically has the ability to then customize the scheduler’s settings, such as specifying available time slots, closed days, services offered and staff members.
Functionality can vary among online appointment-scheduling software providers. Standard features found in many applications include:
• Customer self-scheduling. This feature keeps a business open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Customers appreciate the convenience of booking their own appointments and reservations online and at any hour of the day, an important benefit given people’s busy lifestyles. Many simply do not have the opportunity to schedule service appointments during normal business hours. Online self-scheduling makes this possible.
• Automated e-mail and text message reminders. Many business owners and operators know the importance of customer appointment reminders. Surveys have shown that these can reduce the number of “no-shows”-the bane of service-oriented businesses-by over 50 percent. But traditional reminders can require a significant amount of staff time. Some systems make this important task a snap by automatically sending customers e-mail and text message reminders prior to their scheduled times. All that a business needs to do is specify when it wants them sent, such as one day or two days prior to the appointment. The software does the rest.
• Record-keeping and reporting. Maintaining accurate appointment and customer information is an important component of a well-run business. But managing this data can be cumbersome, especially when a business still employs a more traditional method of scheduling appointments. Staff oftentimes must juggle between different files, spreadsheets and books to record and obtain appointment and reservation details. Online appointment-scheduling software can eliminate the need to keep multiple documents, as it centralizes all inputted information on customers and their appointments. Users can access the information they need right from the scheduler. Additionally, some online scheduling providers offer standard reports that owners and staff can quickly create.
• Online payment options. Some customers who schedule their appointments online may also wish to pay for services at the same time. Requiring payment can also reduce the number of “no-shows”, as customers are less likely to miss an appointment they’ve already paid for. Adding an online payment module can also help improve and streamline accounting and transaction processes.
• E-marketing capabilities. The same principle that makes online appointment-scheduling ideal for record-keeping and reporting also makes it perfect for e-marketing campaigns, since users can access customer e-mails right from the system instead of having to maintain a separate file. Additionally, some online appointment-scheduling providers allow businesses to send e-marketing messages right from the scheduler.
Business procedures and office processes have changed and evolved through the years. One component of service-oriented businesses that hasn’t is the need for accurate appointment-scheduling and reservation-booking procedures. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, business owners and operators can make this important task easy for them and their staff by incorporating online appointment-scheduling software.